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Strut, Baby, Strut

Title: Strut, Baby, Strut
Pairing: Minor Kíli/Bilbo, Arwen/Aragorn, Legolas/Thengel w/ hints of others
Warnings: Seriously ridiculous crack and some romance.
Word Count: 8457
Disclaimer: If I owned the Hobbit, it would be a joke.
Summary: Kíli doesn't want to model, he just wants to sew stuff.


“Welcome to Scandals, Lies, and Secrets exclusive Project Runway preseason show, hosted by the ever-marvelous Nori! Our guest for today is Thranduil, King of the Mirkwood Runway and all around guru of everything fabulous, here to talk about the drama, tears, and fashion nightmares that we have lined up for you this time.”

The camera zooms in to focus on Nori, the dwarf’s hair styled in his signature three triangles. As always, his outfit is to the casual side of chic. The host ready is for an exclusive after-party or a hangout with close friends and Nori’s viewers never doubt that they are his friends as the dwarf welcomes them into the world of fashion with a smile and a grin.

To Nori’s left sits the elf king Thranduil who is the very image of perfectly pristine perfection as he crosses his legs gracefully, not a hair out of place and nary a wrinkle to be seen. Indeed his cheekbones glint like marble beneath the lights of the studio and more than one make-up artist has been known to sigh dreamily when he walks by. This afternoon Thranduil is wearing an outfit from his new line: Wood Elf Regal, which has been taking Middle Earth by storm ever since Tauriel strutted it down the line at the Battle of Mirkwood Gate.

“Tell me, Thranduil, what do you think of the contestants who will be on the show this season? Is there anyone that we should watch out for when the competition starts?”

“Well, Nori, that’s a more complicated question than you might think. While some of the early seasons were criticized for choosing designers that you might see in Lothlórien or Rivendell over fresh and edgy styles, you will not hear that complaint this time around. Indeed, each of our contestants has their own distinct look and I expect the judges to have a difficult choice ahead of them.”

“Yes, it certainly is a mixed group this time. Our competitors are from every corner of Middle Earth. Would you care to give us an overview of each young designer and their styles for any viewers who may be new to the fashion world? I must admit, some of the different terms still baffle me.”

“Of course, Nori. As everyone knows, Project Runway begins after the judges choose eight lucky souls from the hundreds of applicants who submitted their portfolios. The show then brings these designers to Erebor where they compete for the ultimate prize: a chance to represent Thorin Oakenshield in that year’s Battle of Five Armies and a clothing line of their own. This season our contestants are:”

A picture flashes up on the screen of a young man, dark-haired and scruffy in an attractive sort of way. Even though this is a fashion competition, the man looks like he got dressed in the dark and possibly hasn’t changed his clothes in weeks.

“Aragorn is heir to the once great fashion empire of Gondor and despite his utter lack of anything resembling hygiene, his clothes are sewn with a skillful hand. I would describe his vision as rugged and outdoorsy but with style fit for a king. He primarily works with leather and other sturdy fabrics, probably due to his many years as a ranger in the North, but I would keep an eye on this one in the future. Even if Aragorn doesn’t win, a decent showing will help his family shake off the ignominy of Isildur’s ill-fated Ring of Power line.”

Thranduil smiles scornfully at the memory of that season, although the destruction of Gondor’s reputation had helped to put Mirkwood on the map. However, when the next image appears, this time of a young blond elf outfitted impeccably in browns and greens, the elf king's expression softens into something that could almost be called doting if it wasn’t on Thranduil.

“Our second contestant is my youngest son, Legolas, whom I believe has a good chance of winning this. His designs have come close to unseating his elder brothers in several of Mirkwood’s internal competitions and I would be honored to see my children face off on the battlefield this year. Legolas’ clothes are made with the same signature grace as those of my own brand but his patterns have an edginess that should appeal to the younger crowd.”

When the elf king finishes speaking, Legolas fades into a picture of their third contestant, a warrior from Rohan’s royal house. Blond where Aragorn was dark, this man practically glows with rugged health and he grins at the camera as though he hasn’t a care in the world.

“Another newcomer this year, Thengel’s designs tend toward the practical – no glass suits of armor here. However, he brings an elegance that you don’t normally find among the horse lords so while I believe his chances of winning are slim, he may surprise us along the way.”

Thranduil’s tone is dismissive and Nori seems to agree for the host is quick to trigger the next portrait in his slide show, the dwarf grinning with amusement as the entire audience recoils audibly.

“Bolg is our first-ever orcish contestant due to the years of bad blood between the line of Durin and our less graceful cousins. However, his designs thrive on this violent image, the fabric draped in jagged edges and Gothic colors to create some very intriguing lines. While not to my personal taste, I can see his brand becoming very popular in the future, particularly amongst soldiers who want to be battle-ready but still fashionable. If he wins, his models will be walking against his own father Azog and that is a fight we would all love to see.”

The next image to appear on screen is the first and only woman of the evening, her general prettiness somewhat ruined by the scowl.

“Another first this year, two hobbits were selected by the judges to participate in Project Runway’s challenges. Hobbits live far to the west in small farming communities and have never seemed too interested in high fashion before now. But despite Lobelia’s generally unpleasant disposition, her designs have a flare that would not be out of place in the grand halls of Khazad-dûm and her rivals had best take care because she seems the type to stab her enemies in the back without remorse.”

The hobbitess’ image fades into that of another hobbit, this one smiling at the camera cheerfully. He actually looks rather ordinary compared to the other contestants, but his clothes are flattering and put together well.

“Lobelia’s cousin Bilbo Baggins was the second hobbit to be chosen and there is something of an interesting story here because Bilbo is the only finalist who did not apply to the show on his own. He was found by one of Project Runway’s most influential talent scouts, Gandalf the Grey, who is known for discovering the model Smaug and his designer Radagast. Yet I do not believe that the choice was unjustified since Bilbo somehow manages to make humdrum clothes look classy and you can see his vision in the embroidery on that tasteful waistcoat there.”

Contestant number seven is another elf, this one more mature than Legolas and much more serious. In fact, he and Lobelia would probably get along marvelously judging by the matching sneers on their faces and Thranduil does not sound particularly impressed when he speaks again.

“To be honest, I do not have much to say about Haldir. He comes from the fashion temple of Lothlórien so his work is always exquisite, but he is also the most traditional of the designers that we’ve seen tonight. Indeed, I think that Haldir may be one of the first entrants to be sent home if he cannot rise to the varied challenges of this show.”

The final image to appear is also the first dwarf of the evening, though his features do not fit the usual dwarven mold. Instead he is slim and muscled, his cheekbones sharp enough to cut steel, and his dark hair wild with untamed virility.

In the background, half the audience can suddenly be heard swooning dramatically and even those who do not follow fashion closely could not miss his resemblance to the greatest model of their age.

This time Nori is the first to speak, the camera zooming in on his face so that he can talk in the conspiratorial whisper that his fans so love. “Of course, the drama that everyone is discussing this season is our final contestant: Kíli Durin. The dwarf is actually Thorin Oakenshield’s younger nephew, though this was not discovered until our finalists were chosen since Kíli applied under the name of a distant relative.

“Once the truth came out, the dwarf was nearly booted from the competition for fear of nepotism and he has only been allowed to continue with the understanding that Thorin’s input will be strictly advisory where Kíli is concerned. To keep the numbers balanced, our usual panel of judges will be joined by weekly guests, which should serve to add an air of unpredictability to the elimination round.

“No one is quite sure why the youngest Durin has chosen to enter this competition considering that his family is known more for modeling clothing than for sewing it themselves. Indeed the Durins have dominated the runway for generations and Kíli certainly has the cheekbones to hold his own. But while his elder brother, Fíli, has followed in Thorin’s footsteps to great success, Kíli has decided to forge his own path instead. ”

Nori nods to Thranduil when he finishes his gossip and the elf king takes up the narrative without missing a beat.

“The portfolio which led the judges to pick Kíli for Project Runway is fresh and young and exuberant, much like the dwarf’s personality, and I am sure that we will see him at the Battle of Five Armies whether or not he makes it to the end. For there would be no better way to open this year’s show than to have Thorin’s heirs walk the winner’s vision down the runway in a matched set of light and dark.”

“So there you have it.” Nori finishes, smiling widely at the camera before it zooms past him to focus on the portraits lined up on the wall behind him. “Our eight contestants ready to fight to the death for the pinnacle of prizes in the fashion world. Who will thrive and who will falter? There is only one way to find out. Stay tuned for more Project Runway, brought to you every week in real time from the Lonely Mountain LLC.”

---

Kíli shuts off the television with a sigh of disgust as soon as Nori starts talking about his cheekbones, turning back to the pile of clothes strewn across his floor. He’s supposed to be picked up in half an hour and he’s not done packing yet.

Although, in his defense, he probably would have finished ages ago if his uncle hadn’t been sitting in the corner with those disappointed eyes. After all, Thorin is considered a supermodel for a reason and while his ability to look majestic even when wearing sweatpants and hung-over is a large part of that, the emotion in his gaze is why designers love his face. Currently that emotion is stuck somewhere between angry and betrayed and Kíli is getting sick of it.

“I still don’t understand why you have to do this,” Thorin says for something like the fifteenth time that morning before ducking as his nephew finally gives in to the urge to chuck something at his head.

“I know you don’t understand it and that’s half the reason that I’m going,” Kíli says, throwing his hands up in the air. “Because no one in this stupid family believes that I don’t want to be a model and if you’d gotten your way, I would have been thrown out of the competition already. But Project Runway accepted me despite your whining so I’m going to go out there and show the world what I can do. I’m going to prove that I don’t have to follow in your footsteps just because I’m a Durin and genetics went my way. Don’t try to sabotage me either because that won't get you what you want; I’ll take up archery before I walk for you.”

“But your bone structure… It’s perfect!” His uncle replies somewhat desperately, utter incomprehension in his eyes.

Thorin has never understood why anyone wouldn’t love the runway as much as he does or how someone so attractive could prefer to stay behind the scenes. Of course, some of his confusion is understandable considering that almost all of their relatives are models and the only exceptions are those that manage the business side of things instead.

Only Kíli has always preferred making clothes to wearing them and the harder his mother pushed him toward the runway, the harder he rebelled.

“Damn my bone structure! And damn my stupid cheekbones too!” the dwarf shouts, the force of his anger making Thorin rock back in his chair. “It’s not like I’m quitting the family business entirely; I just want to design the brands that you and Fíli wear. Wouldn’t it be nice to keep some of that in house instead of contracting everything out to the Iron Hills? So lay off already!”

“But… but… but…” his uncle stutters until Kíli finally gives up and shoves him out of the door. He’ll deal with Thorin later, at the moment he somehow needs to finish packing before his ride shows up.

The dwarf ends up tossing everything in his bag in a tragic mishmash of fabric and the thought of all the wrinkles he’s going to end up with is enough to make him cringe. However, needs must and Kíli runs downstairs just as the car arrives.

“Good luck, brother,” Fíli tells him, giving him a quick hug on his way out of the door. His brother is the only one who’s supported him in this – using Ori’s name was actually his idea – and it’s good to know that someone has his back. Particularly when no one else even bothers to say goodbye, Thorin and his mother just staring at him stonily. Durins have always been far too good at holding grudges and Kíli knows that he’ll be working this one off for years.

But everything will be worth it when his uncle has to strut down the runway with Kíli's brand on his back and the Battle of Five Armies is won by Erebor again. Not only that, won by a designer who will actually stay with the company instead of joining up with the competition as so many have done in the past.

Just wait and see, Thorin. You’ll be eating your words soon enough, I promise you.

---
---

[Excerpts from Project Runway’s opening interviews]

“So what if I’m a hobbitess? I can sew as well as any of those big lugs and I’m nastier by far. This is a competition and I’m in it to win it, no matter how many people I have to walk across to get my way.”

“I’ve always been a bit hesitant at putting my designs out there after that whole mess with my great uncle – what if I’m as nuts as Isildur and just never realized it? But I’ve been making clothes for my fellow rangers for years and they kept pushing me to try more officially. So here I am; I just hope that I can do Gondor proud.”

“My lady Galadriel is the one who told me to apply for Project Runway – something about needing more varied experience. Like these plebeians have anything to teach a classically-trained elf like me.”

“I’m still not sure what Gandalf saw in me – I mean, I’ve always liked designing my own clothes but I never seriously considered entering a competition until Gandalf showed up in Hobbiton one morning and walked off with my portfolio without even a “How do you do?” It was actually rather rude if you ask me and someone should definitely give that man a proper talking-to. Only I guess the judges liked my work enough to offer me a place in this competition, which is pretty flattering.”

“It’s about time they let an orc on Project Runway and I’m going to show everyone exactly how my people crush our enemies. The other contestants are soft and delicate creatures but I began pitting my designs against my brothers’ almost as soon as I could walk and I have no fear of battle now.”

“Everyone is getting way too worked up about this, you know? Sure I intend to win this if only to prove that I’m as good as any of my siblings, but that doesn’t mean I can’t have a little fun along the way and I’ve always been partial to rugged men. That Thengel fellow is actually quite attractive now that I think about it; all that horse-riding has done wonders for his thighs.”

“I have nothing to say to you people and the next person who mentions my cheekbones is getting punched in the jaw. I’m just here for the competition and my work will speak for itself.”

“Legolas really said I was cute?”

[Fade to black]

---
---

“Hello, Thranduil. Thank you for joining us again. But tell me, what do you think of this season’s first elimination? Any surprises there?”

“Not really, Nori. All of the favorites made it through to the next round, although I was impressed by the quality of work that some of our contestants are turning out. Bilbo in particular has shown a defter hand than I expected and the judges obviously felt the same. Of course, Legolas’ elegant simplicity had to win out in the end but it wasn’t as easy as it would have been in past seasons of the show.”

“What about Kíli? Do you think he’s disproved the doubts that people had?”

“Well, considering that Thorin Oakenshield seems to be trying to convince his nephew to quit at every opportunity, I think we have to disregard any thought of nepotism. It’s a pity that Lobelia was in the bottom of this round but a designer has to be able to handle bad luck and her vision shone through the poor execution to triumph over Haldir’s work. But I told you that his clothes were probably too conservative to take him to the final rounds and I was right.”

“Yes, you were. Though, of course, I think the question that my viewers really want the answer to is: how do you feel about the burgeoning romance between your son and Thengel? The two of them were looking pretty cozy in some of the candid shots.”

“Legolas has always had awful taste in partners so I suppose I can’t be too surprised. At least he chose a man instead of a dwarf this time around and if past experience is any indication, the relationship won’t last. Truthfully, my son has never seen anything wrong with taking his pleasure where he finds it, so as long as he keeps his head in the game, I won’t take him to task.”

---
---

“Are you all right?”

“Mmphh?” Kíli raises his head blearily and once his eyes manage to focus he sees Bilbo staring down at him. He hasn’t talked to the hobbit much since everyone arrived at the house a few weeks ago; in all honesty, he hasn’t really talked to anyone. The other contestants have been avoiding him – one more thing to blame on Thorin – and after the fourth time that conversations ended on his entrance, the dwarf stopped trying to fit in.

It’s not like he’s here to make friends; this is a competition and it’s probably better if he doesn’t get involved. Look at Thengel and Legolas and their whirlwind courtship, the two hopping in bed together on the second night, and just because the elf’s designs didn’t suffer during their last elimination doesn’t mean that they won’t eventually.

So Kíli totally isn’t jealous of how happy Legolas and Thengel are when they're together or the way they trade ideas and designs tips in the sewing room. He totally doesn’t care that half of the others have already formed alliances and loneliness is definitely not why he panics when Bilbo starts to turn away.

“Wait! Please. I’m fine; I'm just not used to pulling so many all-nighters,” he says, giving the hobbit his best crooked smile. “I didn’t realize that designing in a competition meant we’d never sleep.”

“I know what you mean.” Bilbo ducks his head somewhat shyly beneath the dwarf’s gaze, but he also sits down at the table so Kíli takes that as a win. “Whenever I create clothes at home, I do it at a reasonable time of day, but I suppose they’re trying to get us used to working under deadlines and all that.”

“Maybe. Or they’re just sadists. My uncle did design this show after all and I wouldn’t put it past him to make things difficult.” Kíli must be more tired than he thought since he hadn’t actually planned on mentioning his uncle to the hobbit for fear of scaring him off again. But maybe Thorin isn't entirely at fault for the trouble he’s been having because Bilbo just looks at him quizzically.

“Your uncle? You mean Thorin Oakenshield? I remember hearing something about that when the show was first starting but I’ve never paid much attention to those sort of things.” The hobbit dismisses the whole matter with a wave of his hand and Kíli has never had anyone react like that.

Usually people start gushing like crazy, asking the dwarf if he can get them his uncle’s autograph or a foothold in the business, and so this nonchalance is a very nice surprise.

I guess hobbits really are a down-to-earth bunch, he muses before wincing as Lobelia’s furious shriek cuts through the air. Of course, Bilbo could just be special since his cousin is a right hellion. No wonder no one ever attacks the Shire if it’s filled with folks like her – they’d have the battle finished by tea time.

“Well, my fabric’s probably dry by now so I should go. I just didn’t want you to sleep the rest of our time away,” the hobbit says as he stands up again and while Kíli is strangely reluctant to end this conversation, he needs to get back to his work as well.

So the dwarf just thanks Bilbo for his concern, promising himself that they’ll talk later if they both make it through this round. Shyness he can overcome where long-standing family feuds have baffled him and he’s not going to lose the chance to make a friend, particularly one who may have just saved his ass this round.

Because the clock is still ticking and when Kíli turns back to his mannequin, his suit isn’t even close to done. Thankfully he had cut the fabric and pinned it up before he passed out on his table but he still has to do a lot of sewing before their time is up.

However, he is rather proud of the design that he came up with for casual business wear and barring an unforeseen disaster, the dwarf thinks he has a chance of beating Legolas this time.

---

“If that Aragorn fellow doesn’t stop flirting with my daughter, I’m going to shred his designs myself. Not that he needs any help finding the tattered look.”

“Now, now, Elrond. We’re here to judge the contestants on their clothes not on their personal lives and you can’t allow dislike to sway your vote.”

“Says the only person who doesn’t know anyone in the competition. What happened, Bard? I thought the bright stars of Dale were supposed to defeat everyone this year.”

“Oh shut up, Thorin. I don’t know why you even bother to come to the eliminations when your vote doesn’t matter. All you do is sit there and pick at your nephew when everyone here knows that his designs are some of the best we’ve seen. Honestly, I’m surprise the lad hasn’t tried to punch you yet.”

“My family is no concern of yours. That is a matter between me and Kíli and you had best stay out of it.”

“You must admit that’s a little difficult when you insist on arguing on national television and young Kíli truly seems to love his work. Even if you don’t want him here, you should support your nephew’s ambitions instead of damning them since our job as elders is to guide instead of preach. Why do you think I urged Haldir to join this competition when I knew that he would fail?”

“Can we please get back to the fact that Aragorn keeps fondling my daughter all the time?”

“She’s his model, Elrond. The man can’t exactly do his job without touching her and she doesn’t seem nearly as annoyed as you.”

“Relax, Half-Elven. Your daughter is a babe so you should be used to this. I mean, if I was ten years younger, I’d go after her myself. I could use a woman like that on my arm when hosting Laketown’s shows.”

“Whose bright idea was it to have guest judges again? That man makes my skin crawl.”

‘Sorry to interrupt the cat-fighting, but you’re on in five.”

“Thank you, Gandalf, and you really must stop by Lothlórien more often because I don’t see you nearly enough these days.”

“I shall try, my dear Galadriel. But at the moment, duty calls.”

“All right, everyone. Faces on and smile, damn it. The elimination is about to start and we have a reputation to uphold.”

---
---

“I am going to kill my son! He threw this blasted competition and everyone knows it; who makes a dress out of arrowheads, I ask you? Who? It’s all because that useless boyfriend of his was eliminated in the last round and Legolas decided that he couldn’t bear life without Thengel anymore.”

Nori watches Thranduil rant with something akin to awe, the host never having seen the elf so furious before. It certainly goes against the king’s usual cool reputation and this interview is going to make the dwarf’s ratings skyrocket like they never have before.

So Nori doesn’t interrupt until the elf lord finally runs out of bile, only then turning toward the camera with his trademark grin. “This has been quite an upset, hasn’t it? And who knows which of our remaining contestants will win the competition now? But for those viewers wondering just what the lad was thinking, do we have a surprise for you. Because only Scandals, Lies and Secrets brings you the latest gossip directly from the source.”

The camera zooms out to show the screen behind him, Thranduil turning an incredulous stare on his host as Legolas pops into view. Despite the chaos that he’s been causing in the fashion world this afternoon, the young elf looks remarkably cheerful; although, the well-built blond hanging off his arm could be the cause of that.

“Legolas! What were you thinking?” the elf king roars once he recovers from his shock. “You are meant to be winning Project Runway, not throwing it all away for some horse lord’s ass.”

“It’s a very nice ass, father, so you really shouldn’t judge. Besides, Thengel and I have a plan to make our mark. We're going to open up a shop once we get to Rohan; his family has all the right connections in the fashion scene over there and he thinks the horse lords would really dig my stuff.”

Thranduil lets out an inarticulate screech of rage, the camera zooming in to focus on his flaring nostrils and wild eyes. But Nori only allows his viewers to look at the elf for a few seconds before he draws the cameraman's attention back where it belongs: on his own smiling face. So he pats the elf king on the shoulder gently until Thranduil has regained his ivory mask and then wishes Legolas luck in his endeavors in the South.

Though this sets his guest back on the warpath and the last thing his viewers see before the show cuts to commercial is the elf lord flipping out again.

---

Some of these challenges are just ridiculous, Kíli fumes to himself as he stares down at his fabric, wondering how in Mahal’s name he’s supposed to invoke grass with this. For that matter, why would he want to anyway?

But apparently this week’s guest judge will only critique clothing that makes him feel like an animal and so that’s exactly what the dwarf will have to do.

At least none of the other contestants look any happier with their assignments and their disheartened expressions make Kíli feel better about his chances here. Legolas might have been a problem if he were still around since his designs are all about nature, if usually not quite so literally, but his tragic romance with Thengel had taken care of that.

Honestly that was a lucky break for the rest of them because the young prince had been a favorite of the judges until his epic meltdown – and in truth, Kíli almost envies the elf’s audacity. Because the more time he spends with Bilbo, the more the young dwarf likes him, and yet he's not brave enough to make a move on national TV. Not when so much is riding on this competition and his uncle is still waiting for Kíli to fail.

His nephew can see it in Thorin’s eyes whenever he sits in on the eliminations: the disappointment and disapproval obvious. Indeed, the older dwarf just seems to become angrier with every round that Kíli survives and when he actually won a challenge, he thought that Thorin would have a heart attack.

So even if Bilbo is adorable, the dwarf needs to concentrate on his sewing because if he follows in Legolas’ footsteps, his family will never let him live it down.

Although Kíli still blushes when the hobbit gives him a commiserating smile from across the room, his brown eyes warm with sympathy. Since that first conversation, the two of them have spent long hours discussing everything from sewing techniques to their shared love of hiking and Bilbo is quickly becoming the best friend he’s ever had.

But only friends, remember? the dwarf tells himself, returning the hobbit’s smile and then forcing his mind back to the task at hand.

While the challenge still seems impossible – really, really impossible – a Durin never gives up without a fight. So Kíli looks at the pile of velvet and paisley that Galadriel had handed him with a sadistic smile until the dwarf finally feels a glimmer of inspiration in the back of his mind.

It’s just wisp of an idea really, an old memory of frosted grass on rolling hilltops, but it’s enough to grab a pencil and start sketching something out. Kíli has always worked best with his hands anyway, his designs taking shape on the page as though the paper were his thoughts. So he quickly loses himself in the sweep of a shoulder and a finely sewn lapel, only looking up an hour later when the final line is drawn.

His rivals are scattered around the room, their own designs in various stages of completion and Kíli is pleased to see that he's not too far behind. Aragorn is the only one who has started blocking fabric on his mannequin, the man's long years as a ranger giving him an advantage in this sort of thing.

On the other end of the spectrum, Lobelia is looking increasingly murderous as she sweeps her fabric off the table for the third time and Bolg has a very scary glint in his red eyes. They were tasked with swamp frogs and lily pads respectively and if they were more normal people, someone would be crying now. As it is, the hobbitess' frustration is enhancing her usual unpleasant craziness and even the camera-dwarves are starting to twitch nervously whenever the orc prince lifts his shears.

So Kíli keeps one eye on that corner as he starts making up his pattern, periodically ducking when something sharp flies his way.

By the time the dwarf finishes his outfit, the floor around him is littered with pins and needles, every step threatening to take him out. He would worry about deliberate sabotage if Lobelia weren't so obviously having a mental breakdown, although Bolg appears to have pulled himself together now.

He’s pleased to see that Bilbo is also finished, a delicate tracery of lace and leather invoking old growth forest trees. Though, of course, Kíli's designer ego says that his is better – velvet and paisley used to paint a scene from his childhood. Before his father had abandoned his family like a thief in the night, he had taken Fíli and Kíli on a journey to the Southlands and the dwarf would never forget the waves of grass that he saw there.

The plants had rippled in the wind like silk, every blade tinged with frost and flowers in that strange space between the winter and the spring. That is what Kíli has tried to capture in this challenge and he is proud to call this piece his own.

So when they're called to eliminations, he is feeling rather confident and he sidles over to Bilbo once the frantic work is done. The dwarf doesn't say anything, just throws a friendly arm around the other's shoulders and tries not to blush when the hobbit leans into him.

To be fair, they're both kind of leaning on each other since these past weeks have left everyone in a state of constant exhaustion and Kíli has to fight to keep his eyelids up. He's honestly not sure how Aragorn looks so chipper all the time, though it may have something to do with the herbs that the ranger is always smoking when the cameras are off. Or maybe it’s just because Aragorn is clearly smitten with his model and he’d walk through fire itself to see her face again.

Uncle should rename this thing Project Get a Date if this season is any indication, the dwarf muses as their models strut around the room. He’s definitely happy with how his garment drapes across Galion's body and if he had to pick someone to go home right now, it would be Lobelia.

The hobbitess never recovered from her earlier meltdown and her offering can barely even be called clothing compared to her usual work. It's almost sad how far she's fallen but the whole point of this competition is to see who can roll with the punches in order to produce something beautiful. The fashion world is fickle – Isildur's fall proved that – and you never know whether the next big thing will be sequins or taffeta until that day arrives.

Indeed the judges agree with Kíli's professional opinion, sending Lobelia away with hardly any deliberation and the hobbitess curses her entire way out of the hall. Then the remaining four are sent back to the Project Runway house to lick their wounds and get a few more hours sleep before they're called to work again.

However, despite the exhaustion tugging at the edges of the dwarf's vision, he finds himself unable to sleep tonight. There's too much adrenaline still running through his veins and after an hour of staring at his ceiling, Kíli gives it up.

He rolls out of bed, throwing a sweatshirt on over his pajamas, and heads down to the kitchen for a snack. Maybe a bit of honeyed ale will help wash away his worries, or at least dim their urgency, and so he curls up on the sofa with a pint. For all the annoying things about this competition, Kíli can't deny that the kitchen is well-stocked. If not for the stress, he would probably be getting chubby, but he's always been the type to forget about eating when he has something on his mind.

So it's actually rather nice to just sit and relax for a moment, the dwarf staring out the window aimlessly. He's been feeling a bit homesick lately, not for their house but for his brother, and it feels strange to be chasing his dreams without Fíli at his side.

However, while Kíli knows that his elder brother will be watching every episode with his face glued to the screen, the rules of this competition forbid even phone calls until the game is done. They're entirely cut off from outside influences until they're eliminated and it's no surprise that the contestants have been latching onto each other for support instead.

“Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize that anyone else was here.” The dwarf looks up to see Bilbo standing in the doorway, the hobbit holding a glass of his own. “I can leave you to your thoughts if you'd prefer to be alone.”

“No, it's fine. I don't mind the company,” Kíli replies with a smile, figuring that the Valar must be trying to tell him something here. “I just couldn't sleep after all the excitement earlier.”

“Yeah, me neither,” Bilbo says as he sinks down on the couch next to his competitor. “That last challenge was ridiculous. I'm just glad that I used to hike through the Old Forest every summer so I had something to draw on for inspiration there. Hobbiton isn't exactly filled with ancient trees.”

“Well, I think your work was fantastic, just like always, and the judges obviously agreed with me,” the dwarf tells Bilbo, reaching out a hand. He was intending to pat his friend on the shoulder but somewhere along the way his body stops cooperating with his plans. So instead Kíli finds himself curling his fingers around the hobbit's neck and tugging Bilbo close to him. Somehow, in this one perfect moment all of the dwarf's doubts disappear and he presses their lips together with a sigh.

There are no cameras here, the two of them hidden away amongst the shadows and the starlight, and Bilbo melts against Kíli easily. They move together in the darkness without need for further conversation, their kisses sweet and intimate.

While there is certainly a spark of heat between them, both designers know that they won't be moving any further than this tonight. So there is no urgency in the soft slide of lips and skin, just the pleasure of heat and closeness with another person, and it's a long time before they part.

“I'm still going to try to win this,” Kíli murmurs once he catches his breath again, pressing another kiss against the hobbit's cheek. “But maybe once the competition is over, we can come back here again.”

“I would like that,” Bilbo replies, meeting the dwarf's eyes with a sweet smile of his own. “I'd never ask you to give up your dreams for me and I know you feel the same. So I expect you to put your all into this fight just like I will. But for now, just come back over here.”

So Kíli does and if the camera-dwarves find them curled together on the couch in the morning, they're polite enough to turn away.

---
---

Arwen has always loved being a model. She loves the clothes and the endless travel and the knowledge that people are watching her every move. She loves feeling beautiful and she loves the adventure of it and she’s not going to throw it all away for some scruffy ranger with passion in his eyes.

Sure, this Aragorn fellow comes from a fine lineage if you ignore that whole Isildur disaster but it's not like she hasn't had her fair share of admirers over the years. Men and elves and foolish younglings have all professed their undying love after seeing Arwen walk a runway and none of them have been able to hold her attention for very long. No spark of attraction has ever held a candle to the way that she loves modeling and yet for some reason she cannot get this man's grin out of her head.

His smile is strangely charming, filled with both an easy delight and a hint of wickedness, and his hands move across both cloth and model with practiced ease. But it's the way Aragorn makes Arwen laugh that causes the elf to reconsider her earlier disdain.

Because the ranger's pick-up lines are awful, his puns are a crime against the world's great literature, and the first joke that he tells her on the runway is so ridiculous that Arwen nearly drops her icy mask.

It's delightful precisely because Aragorn clearly knows how terrible his seduction is and he's not even trying to be suave. He's just trying to make her happy in whatever way he can and it's been a long time since the elf maid met anyone so free of pretense in this life. Most models and designers tend toward unbridled arrogance and Arwen doesn't need two divas in her relationships.

So the elf slowly but surely begins to return the ranger's feelings, her amused smiles growing softer without her consent. Indeed, Arwen isn’t quite sure how it happened but she finds herself looking forward to her fittings and teasing Aragorn with a few jokes of her own.

Sure it makes her father glare at the ranger during every elimination, but Elrond has never approved of anyone that his daughter dated and he’s too honorable to let dislike alter his vote. So by the time this contest is halfway over, the model has decided that she’s going to accept Aragorn’s request for coffee once he’s eliminated. This may not yet be love but Arwen thinks that it could be if given time to blossom and she wants to allow it the chance to grow.

Although that coffee may arrive sooner rather than later because the competition has become quite fierce and Aragorn admitted that he wasn’t entirely happy with his work during her last fitting.

However, while this garment does lack the grace of some of the ranger’s earlier creations, it is still beautiful and Arwen walks it down the runway as fiercely as anything she’s worn. She’s not letting her ranger go without a fight and the judges deliberate for a long time before they call their contestants back.

“We would like all of you to know that this was a very close decision and you have done your families proud by making it this far,” Galadriel says serenely and as always, it's impossible to doubt her words. “But as this competition requires us to send one of you home tonight, I am sorry, Aragorn; you have been eliminated from Project Runway. Please return to the house, pack your bags and leave immediately.”

No one can quite believe it at first because Aragorn is one of the favorites in this contest, the other designers looking at each other with a mix of stupefaction and relief. In fact, the ranger seems to take the news better than anyone else, although Arwen’s heart twinges at the flash of disappointment that slides across his face. But her empathy fades into amusement quickly when Aragorn turns toward his model with a wink.

“I shall love you forever, my darling. Please remember me,” he shouts, leaping dramatically from the stage and running from the room.

Arwen cannot keep herself from blushing slightly at his theatrics, though only those who know her well would notice the faint dusting of pink across her cheeks. Even her father is too busy scowling at Aragorn’s retreating back to notice that he’s already lost this battle, because it is Arwen’s phone number that the ranger brings to his lips on the way back to his home.

---

[Transcripts from a fan chat room]

OrcFan312: Did you see the outfit Bolg made for the last elimination? I would wear the shit out of that. I can't believe he didn't win.

WizardOfTheRunway: Don't be stupid. Bilbo's pantsuit was clearly a superior effort. That fine detailing on the cuffs was practically a work of art by itself.

Durin-555: Oh come off it, Gandalf. Everyone knows that you're biased about this.

WizardOfTheRunway: Respect the username, lad. I can neither confirm nor deny whether or not Gandalf is me right now. Besides, you're not exactly objective about this competition as long as your brother is still around.

Durin-555: Kíli is going to win this and make no mistake about it. Baruk Khazâd! Khazâd ai-mênu! We Durins will have our day.

OrcFan312: You arrogant bastards deserve nothing and Bolg will see that dwarf burn before he loses to scrawny khozd-shrakhun like that. He is going to bathe in the blood and tears of his enemies, use their fallen dreams to build himself a fashion empire and when he has finished all the world will bow before the might of –

[OrcFan312 has been banned from the chat room. Please sign in under a different username to continue on your quest.]

---
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“Welcome to your final challenge. The three of you have come so far and conquered many obstacles along the way, but this will be the most difficult task that you have ever faced. Whichever one of you succeeds most elegantly will be named the winner of Project Runway and this is the first step toward making all your dreams come true.”

Kíli almost can't believe that he has made it this far, standing next to Bolg and Bilbo with one garment between him and victory. But that one garment may be the most difficult that the dwarf has ever created and he feels his confidence falter as the Lady of Lothlórien lays out what they must do.

“You will be designing a showpiece for Smaug’s next exhibition and the dragon’s favorite outfit will close out the show. However, being chosen for the finale does not guarantee your victory, because Smaug will wear each of your garments down the runway and we will judge the winner as we always do. Still, it certainly won’t hurt your chances to gain the dragon’s favor so you should pay attention when he tells you his preferences. Remember, winning this competition will give you a place in the Battle of Five Armies – the premier fashion show that makes and breaks careers.”

How in Mahal’s name is Kíli supposed to design clothes for a dragon without failing miserably? Even if Smaug usually walks the runway in hybrid form, most fabric cannot withstand the heat of his body and the dwarf has never had to deal with wings before. But apparently at least one of his concerns has been handled by the judges because Gandalf steps forward to add his own piece.

“As an added twist to this last round, all three of you will be working with the same fabric – a special weave that Radagast designed. My colleague added a touch of magic to it to protect it from Smaug’s fire, although you are still allowed to accent your garment with anything you choose.”

The fabric that the wizard lays before them looks like a form of satin, one that shimmers with a rainbow of colors even in these dim lights. It’s beautiful, almost too beautiful to cut into, but the sight of it also sparks Kíli's heart with an idea that puts all his doubts to shame.

He is going to wreathe Smaug in fire as though he were a great wyrm from dwarven myth and history, the beasts that fell upon whole cities and burned their blades to ash. For while this fabric may be able to withstand dragon fire, Gandalf said that they could use anything else they wanted and a few strategic panels are exactly what Kíli needs. He will burn a serpent against the dragon's crimson wings, a lacery of fire that will make a statement of his skills as a designer whether he wins this fight or not.

So as soon as the remaining three are released to the sewing room to get started, the dwarf starts drawing like a soul possessed. His design flows out of him without pause or hesitation and Kíli has only felt such inspiration a few times in the past.

This feeling of creation is exactly why he wants to be a designer and he knows that he will keep chasing it for as long as he still lives. But for now all that matters is the fabric beneath his fingers and the garment that is slowly taking shape under his hands. The dwarf actually finishes just under the wire, his last seam sewn together as the seconds trickle down. Yet his outfit looks exactly as he imagined so Kíli smiles proudly through his fatigue while the judges trickle in.

Now there is nothing left to do but wait for Smaug to pick his favorite and it should be a difficult decision for the wyrm to make because both of his rivals have also brought forth their best work in this round. Although, of course, that will only make his victory all the sweeter in the end.

However, even if Kíli's confidence proves misguided, this competition has granted him other treasures and he will leave it a much richer dwarf than he was when it began. He has gained a friend and perhaps a lover and he walks over to Bilbo as Smaug prowls around the room. After all, there is nothing else that Kíli can do to sway the wyrm's decision so he might as well focus on his other priorities.

“It has been an honor and a pleasure,” Kíli murmurs, leaning down to whisper in his hobbit's ear. “Promise that you'll let me take you out when this is over; loser pays for dinner and may the best designer win.”

---
---

“Well, that was certainly an unexpected finish. Who knew that satin burned so beautifully?”


End